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Chicago Transit Authority v. Flohr

decided: December 16, 1977.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division No. 75 C 3583 - John F. Grady, Judge.

Cummings, Circuit Judge, Robert L. Kunzig,*fn* Judge, and Bauer, Circuit Judge.

Author: Kunzig

KUNZIG, Judge.

This case (of first impression at the appellate level) is before the court on direct appeal from a summary judgment entered by the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. In an action for a declaratory judgment brought by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA, plaintiff-appellant) against the Federal Railroad Administrator and the Secretary of Transportation*fn1 (defendants-appellees), CTA sought a ruling that it is not a "railroad" and hence not subject to FRA railroad regulations. The district judge decided in favor of FRA, holding that "railroad" included urban rapid transportation.

The sole question in this case is one of congressional intent, specifically, whether the word "railroad" as used in the Railroad Safety Act includes urban rapid transportation systems of the type operated by CTA. Although the district court found that the common meaning of the word does not include systems such as the CTA [and we agree and hold that Congress, clearly not intending to reach CTA, used "railroad" in this common sense], the judge then erred in placing full reliance upon an overly broad dictionary definition, and decided for defendant. This holding flies in the face of, not only the common meaning of "railroad," but also, and more importantly, a plainly manifest congressional intent to deal only with railroads and not with urban rapid transit. We therefore reverse.

On December 11, 1974, the Federal Railroad Administration published revised regulations having to do with railroad accident reporting. 49 C.F.R. § 225. For purposes of the regulations, the FRA defined "railroad" as including "rapid transit," "subway," and "elevated" lines. 49 C.F.R. § 225.5. The sole authority for these regulations is the Railroad Safety Act of 1970, 45 U.S.C. §§ 421-41 (1970) which provides the Secretary of Transportation (through the FRA) with rule making powers concerning "all areas of railroad safety"*fn2 without specifically defining the word "railroad."

The effect of the new FRA railroad regulations just described is to require additional monthly and annual reports to the FRA of occurrences reflecting on the safety of "railroad" operations, subject to civil and criminal penalties for failure to comply. Urban mass transit systems such as the CTA, however, are already subject to safety requirements imposed by the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA). See 49 U.S.C. §§ 1601-12 (1970 & Supp. V 1975). The FRA "railroad" regulations which seek to include mass transit within their ambit would thus constitute a further, and possibly even conflicting, regulatory network beyond that which is already imposed on CTA by UMTA.

The CTA operates the second largest public transit system in the United States, carrying on a typical weekday a ridership in excess of 600,000 and carrying each year more passengers than all of the nation's railroads combined. The CTA's rapid transit equipment*fn3 consists of electrically self-powered units, substantially smaller and lighter than railroad cars; CTA rapid transit cars do not use the rails of any railroad nor, conversely, can railroads use the CTA rails. The CTA receives funds from UMTA which account for some 80% of its capital expenditures, and CTA has been and continues to be subject to safety requirements of UMTA (both as to equipment and operational rules). As the risks, hazards, technology, and operating procedures of CTA, an urban rapid transit system, are far different from those involved in railroad operations, the considerations involved in formulating safety standards are also far different. Finally, in both the mass transit industry and in the railroad industry, the term "railroad" as it is commonly used, does not include rapid transit systems.*fn4

The foregoing facts, uncontested in the court below, set up the controversy between CTA and the FRA. After January 1, 1975, the effective date of FRA's revised regulations on railroad accident reporting, the FRA demanded that CTA file the mandated railroad reports.

On October 24, 1975, CTA filed an action for declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 seeking a determination that the CTA is not a railroad within the meaning of the Railroad Safety Act of 1970 and that FRA's regulations are, as applied to CTA, invalid.*fn5 Jurisdiction was predicated upon 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

CTA argues that the common meaning of the word "railroad" does not include urban rapid transit systems and that Congress must be presumed to use the word in its common meaning. Not resting there, CTA further maintains that the actual intent of Congress not to include rapid transit is clearly discernible in the legislative history. In addition, CTA takes the position that Congress would never have intended to designate two federal agencies, FRA and UMTA, each to have prime regulatory authority over urban mass transit.

In response, the FRA asserts that its own definition, which relies on Webster's dictionary, must be upheld if it is a "reasonable construction" even though not necessarily the one that Congress had in mind. FRA also explains that the resultant dual regulation is complementary to UMTA rather than duplicative. Finally, FRA advances its own reading of the legislative history to support the proposition that Congress meant to include rapid transit under the Act.

The district judge found for FRA, basing his decision on his assumption that Congress must be presumed to have known Webster's dictionary meaning. The district judge so ruled despite his finding that the common understanding of the word does not include rapid transit.

While we recognize that this case poses a novel and difficult problem (neither party has cited, nor have we been able to find an appellate decision construing this aspect of the Railroad Safety Act),*fn6 we cannot concur with the decision below. The only question in this case is congressional intent with respect to the word "railroad." We agree with CTA that the legislative history conclusively demonstrates that there was no intent to include rapid transit systems. ...

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